In late Feb. 2012, Dustin Brown’s name was churning through the rumor mill, his alleged availability at the trade deadline eclipsing even the hype surrounding Rick Nash,
The Los Angeles Kings didn’t trade him; Brown responded with 23 points through the end of the regular season and 20 points in 20 playoff games to help lead the Kings to their first Stanley Cup.
Leading is what Brown does. He wears the ‘C’ and sets the tempo, usually though physical play that hasn’t endeared him to other fan bases.
Now, he leads the Kings into a 48-game title defense, as Los Angeles returns nearly its entire team from the Cup victory.
We spoke with Brown this week about the Kings’ potential Cup hangover in a lockout-shortened season; deal with teams that hate him; why Anze Kopitar isn’t a superstar yet; and what it’s like to have his team confused with the Sacramento Kings. Enjoy …
Q. How do you feel the lockout is going to affect you guys, with regard to a “Stanley Cup hangover”?
BROWN: We’re going to enjoy the banner raising. That’s something I think we earned as a group. But ultimately I think we just want to play hockey again. That’s the feeling I have with our team. Everyone talks about the banner raising, and that excitement. But in the room we’re just ready to get going and close that chapter.
Are you at all worried that last season was lightning in a bottle? That, for this team, it’ll never click like that again?
I don’t think it’s as easy as turning a key. But the one thing that Darryl brings to the table is honesty. He’s not afraid to tell you how it is, whether you’re the best player or the fourth-line role player. And that makes us more honest with each other. That’s the biggest thing he brought to us – the honesty he brought to the locker room. You start to lean on each other, trust each other a bit more.
What was it in the playoffs that transformed you into a point per game player?
I don’t know. A lot of it’s just the confidence coming down the stretch, individually and as a team. It has a snowball effect. We got past Vancouver, which I think was a big moment for this franchise. We’ve had some limited success since I’ve been here, and since I’ve been captain. But we had never been able to take that next step. We got by arguably the best team in the league over the last two years, and that just bolstered our belief system and my own confidence.
You brought the Cup on Leno. Do you actually watch Leno?
I’ve got three kids. I can’t stay up that late.
It was a fun experience, and something I never thought I’d do. It was a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
What was it like taking the Cup back to Ithaca, and knowing that people slept out overnight for their chance to see it?
That was really cool. We decided we wanted to some kind of public event, and we did something to support the Semper Fi fund, and it turned out better than we expected. It’s probably the best thing, other that the night we won. Being able to bring it back home, and celebrate with people I’ve known my whole life. Best friends I’ve been playing hockey with since I was four. We played so many shinny hockey games where we pretended to win the Cup. And then to actually bring it home…
You told the LA Times it doesn’t feel like camp, and more like practices before games.
It reminds me of every once in a while, you get five or six days … I remember last year we had five days without a game. The practices are similar to that. We get a little conditioning in, but it’s a little bit of a battle to get you in shape at this point. A lot of going over Xs and Os.
There’s no real amount of time to get yourself in the right condition. Either it’s there, or it’s not. And if it’s not, it’ll get there.
Do you think that helps the Kings get right into it, or will it take 5-10 games before things feel the way they should?
It’s the same for every team. You’ve got players that played, and players that haven’t on every team. Ultimately, it comes down to the teams that have their details in order. The little things. They’ll do well off the beginning, and then from there it becomes a sprint.
We have 20 guys coming back. We don’t have to feel each other out or add a new player. We don’t have that span where we’re figuring things out.
Who came into camp in the best shape, and who is sucking wind?
The player in the best shape, to everyone’s surprise, was Drew Doughty. They always question his condition and his shape. For a lockout, for him to come in that quickly, was the most surprising shape. But practicing and playing games are two different things. I’m sure everyone in the league is going to be [running] short shifts in the early part of the season.
What’s going to be the biggest challenge in a 48-game season?
Being healthy in a shortened season is one of the big things, that the players take care of themselves the right way. But for our team, it’s the details. If you get off your game, it’s important to get back on track as quickly as possible. Last year, I think we had 10 games where we didn’t play well. You do that in a 48-game schedule … there’ll be so much more pressure on a game-to-game basis. It’ll be like the last 20 games for us last season. We performed well, and we made the playoffs.
That said, is there something in the back of your minds that says, ‘Hey, we don’t have to finish in the top two. All we have to do is make the playoffs, and we can roll’?
With this team … you obviously want to finish as high as you can. Anywhere we place, it’s matter of getting everyone on the same page as quickly as possible.
What are your thoughts on not playing the East? The Kings usually go on that massive East Coast swing where a lot of bonding happens. You going to miss it or is it a pain in the backside to go on it?
A little of both. We usually go out East and stay two, two and a half weeks. But it’s going to be a unique experience playing just the Western teams, because it’s going to make every game almost like a four-point game, because you’re playing teams you’re trying to catch or that are trying to jump ahead of you.
Are you sick of accidentally having the Sacramento Kings logo used when the local media reports on the LA Kings?
They make a big deal about it, getting mistaken with the Sacramento Kings logo. But I’ll take that if it meant winning the Stanley Cup every year.
In Southern California, the media’s pretty keen on who we are and what we’re about. There’s a little slip up here and there, but for the most part I think we’re starting to have a bigger presence here.
Anze Kopitar is one of the best players in hockey, but always seems like he’s left out of that conversation. You think he takes another leap forward this year?
I think he still can get better as a player. I think he doesn’t get enough credit because he plays on the West Coast. You look at the so-called go-to players in the league from a marketing standpoint, and they all play in the East, because it’s easier to market those teams and those players. But you go deeper and deeper in the playoffs, you get recognized more and more.
Is this the year Drew Doughty wins the Norris?
Drew’s already been nominated once. He’s got the attitude that he wants to get better and wants to be that guy. He’s another guy that doesn’t get credit. His numbers may have gone down in the last two years, but he’s been shutting down the other team’s top guys.
Because of your physical play, you’ve become a rather loathed player among Phoenix Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks fans. Are you comfortable being the villain, because you seem like a nice dude?
Obviously, it’s one of those things. If you’re hated by other teams’ fans, it means you’re doing something right. The way I play, I assume that you hate me until I’m on your team. I’ve played against players like that. Mike Richards was a guy I hated playing against. Now that he’s on my team, I love him to death.
Finally, I have to ask this given current events: Is there anyone in the Kings’ locker room you think is likely to have a fake Internet girlfriend?
I don’t think so. [Penner] has the personality, but I don’t think he’d go that far.